The Problem with the Israel Debate

[Due to the recent controversy surrounding this interview, it will be left at the top of the page until things blow over.]

UPDATE: An observant reader (props C L Cook) did some digging into the machete side story and found out that it may not be on the up and up.  I did not know about the controversy surrounding it.  However, I do not have time to do a full background check right now, so be warned


So before I begin, this article will not be about my beliefs on Israel, that is a major post for another day. One thing I will say about my views however, is that I hate using left and right for the Israel debate.  I know a lot of people who are pro Israel who are as liberal with the best of them, and then you got guys on the right like Pat Buchanan that just don’t like Jews.  Regardless of your thoughts on the issue, it is important to put Israel policy outside of the normal partisan boundaries because it is very easy for anti Israel to turn into anti Jew.  If that infects the left/right debate in the US, it will be, as my Dad says, not good for the Jews.   I also find that it is important for there to be a difference between anti Israel and pro Palestinian.  For example, someone could be in support of Israel’s right to defend itself, but still feel that the Palestinians have been given a raw deal and deserve a state.  They are not mutually exclusive, nor mutually inclusive.

What this post is about is the problem with the mainstream debate.  That problem is that too many people are talking about what they don’t know about or understand.   Here are two very recent examples from both the pro and anti Israel sides


First, today Bill Kristol wrote a piece in the Weekly Standard saying how he had internal unnamed sources saying that Obama was planning on voting in favor of an international investigation of the Turkish Flotilla Fiasco at the UN.  Ben Smith quickly refuted this on Politico, confirming with his white house sources that this was not true.  However, wherever you stand on this you will be angry with the white house.  People against an international investigation will believe that the Obama administration was planning on doing it under the radar, but stopped once it came out, while people for the investigation will think that the administration kowtowed to the pro Israel hardliners.  The result of this is that no matter what side you are on, you feel that the Israel/anti-Israel side strong arming/conspiring against you.  This is just devolves the debate into more distrust and anger, something that really wont help Israel or Palestinians.

A second example of what is wrong with the debate is an example from the left.  Last weekend I interviewed NDP MP (a NDP=Leftist Party, MP=Canadian Member of Parliament) Libby Davies at an anti Israel rally that I was filming.  Libby Davies is one of the more prominent critics of Israel in Canada, so I thought I would hear an eloquent argument on why Israel is a negative force in the world.  However, what I got instead was evasiveness and a misunderstanding of basic facts of history


I first asked he when she believes that the occupation started in 1948 or 1967.  I was hoping to gauge what part of the anti-Israel spectrum she was on.  When she answered 1948, and then started talking about the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, I was stunned.  It seemed to me that she believed that those territories fell under occupation after the war for independence, not the 67 war.  As the interview went on, it became more clear that she did not actually know much about the conflict.  How is it that a leader on a national stage can take such a stand against another country without understanding what she is taking a stand on?  While I may have disagreed with her ideas, I would have had little problem with her if she actually knew about the cause that she was trying to rally people to.  But she had no clue what she was talking about other then parroting a few lines at me getting flustered when I tried to push beyond them.  This is of a particular concern, because as the second highest ranking member of the NDP, she will most likely receive a cabinet post if the NDP/Liberal merger goes ahead, and if she is ignorant in a cause she has been championing would it really be a smart idea to give her a ministry?

My big worry is that the Israel debate will take on the tenor of the health care debate.  Going to university in Canada, I have seen first hand how angry anti-Israel student events  can get and they are comparable to those that the far right held during the town halls last summer.  I have seen Jewish students pushed around, and I earlier this year, two pro Israel students in Ottawa were attacked with a machete. When pundits fuel the fires with false claims, and politicians  try to lead without understanding what they are actually leading, only bad things can happen, and I can say this, it won’t be good for the Jews or Palestinians

14 Responses to “The Problem with the Israel Debate”

  1. matttbastard says:

    NDP != “Leftist Party”.

    NDP = “social democratic party”.


  2. Jew for Justice says:

    Read Illan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. This Israeli historian sheds light on what really happened in 1948. You’ll find you’ve been duped kid. The story you’ve been feed about how Israel was formed and behaves is false.

    I presume, since you are so interested in “facts” you’ll read it and report back.

  3. Brad Brzezinski says:

    Hey JfJ: Why should one read Pappe out of all the historians? What makes his version more accurate than other authors?

    There are many books that could be read and I tend to avoid authors who are blatantly biased. Pappe is upfront about his in the foreword to “A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples.”

    It is obvious to anyone with a lick of sense that war is nasty and for every good narrative there will be an underbelly. You can make anyone seem nasty if you put your mind to it. That’s not what a good historian is supposed to do.

    PS: The very fact that there’s so much self critical history coming out of Israel speaks to the kind of society it is. If we had the same from her opponents, there would be no war because that would mean they were finally operating from rationality instead of hatred.

  4. R. Mowat says:

    It is one of the most frustrating things about debates over the Israel-Palestinian situation: a pervasive ignorance of history.

    And in some cases it isn’t simply an unknowing but a counter-factual knowing (I remember listening in on a lengthy conversation between university students about Israel’s occupation of Libya – not just a slip of the tongue, but a complete rewrite of history).

    Ungrounded from facts, it seems the result is not a focus on tangible and plausible remedies to the situation, but a veering off into the farcical (esp. ZOG).

    And you are correct – it isn’t a left-right divide.



  5. sue goldstein says:

    This is absolutely so damaging to the NDP that Libby Davies must not only step down as deputy leader, but she must also resign from the NDP and sit as an Independent. Just like Helene Guergis. I mean, how can such an ignoramus on the Middle East conflict sit right next to Jack Layton? For perspective, this overweight gal has made a career of slandering Israel. Her animus is based on her churchy WASP father whose missionary efforts were rejected by the Jews. Might I make a suggestion? Why don’t her admirers in Vancouver buy her a sailboat so she can transport some humanitarian goodies to the Hamas terrorists in Gaza? Then the Israelis could blockade her and toss her in the brig for days – and years – on end!

  6. Well done! Excellent posting. Brilliant interview with Libby Davies.

    Davies isn’t resigning. Jack Layton (leader of the NDP) isn’t asking her to. On hating Israel, Davies speaks for the large majority of NDP activists (roughly 90% of the activists – a smaller percentage of people who vote NDP).

    If Layton were to discipline Davies, he’d lose a lot of points with his core supporters.

  7. Edward says:

    Go ahead folks and click on this clip on YouTube. There, you will find much more about the truth about the Israeli occupation of a land that was already settled by both Muslims and Shepardic Jews. You know, the Jews of the bible, those who have a real claim to their land along with their neighbors, the Palestinians. The Ashkenazi Jews of Europe engineered a take over, convincing European leaders to “grant” them the land. As if those European leaders had any right to do so.

    Oh, wait, the Holocaust. So the Europeans caused the Holocaust and the Palestinians, along with Shepardic Jews have to pay the price ? Why didn’t those European leaders give say, half of Germany,, you know, what became East Germany,,, or half of Italy, yeah, that’s it,, or wait, half of Japan. Those Germans, Italians or Japanese who become displaced, would just quietly leave. Yeah, riiiiight.

    Why not though ? THEY were the Axis powers who caused the slaughter of millions of Gypsies weren’t they ? Say, why didn’t the Gypsies get their piece of the action ? Because the Gypsies didn’t form terrorist gangs.

    Have a look at this and tell me that Israel was born of an independence movement. Sure it was.

  8. David Katz says:

    Hey Edward, I am glad to see you bravely voicing against the Jewish menace anonymously

  9. zalm says:

    Sue goldstein

    Ad hominems don’t further the debate.

  10. Alice says:

    Sad to see how ignorant and uggly people can be. Glad to know NPD will never be in power with representatives like her. What else can she do to get some attention …..? Just kick her out.

  11. Miriam says:

    What bothers me the most about this debate is that while everyone seems very concerned about the welfare of the Palistinians, no one actually is. For example, that there is suffering in Gaza cannot be disputed. But the fact that Hammas routinely hunts down gays and lesbians for the explicit sake of torture and abuse, that they allow no freedom of information or of movement for their people, that despite the millions and millions of dollars donated to Palistine over the years, most Palistinians still don’t have reliable electricity, running water, any kind of reliable economic infrastructure, decent housing or education, these things no one notices or talks about. As an American expatriate who has been living in Israel for the past six years (including the summer when we forcibly pulled thousands and thousands of Jews out of Gaza) I can say that the Palistinian situation troubles me very deeply. Few people in the world are more screwed over than they are (excepting most of Africa of course). But what bothers me even more is that in all this so-called outrage and indignation, most people skip around the problem of why they are screwed over and what can be done to help them and go straight to blaming Israel, which, in case no one noticed, hasn’t helped anyone. Case in point: despite the fact that the Israeli army directly offered the flotilla activists the option of sending the aid to Gaza through Ashdod, and in fact sent the aid to Gaza themselves mere days after the incident, Hamas refused to let the aid through. I am not sure if it has gotten through yet – my last find on the internet was dated over a week ago – but my point is, the debate tends to veer away from helping Palistinians and towards Israel hating. Now I know that personally, when people use the suffering of my people as political leverage (ie, the Holacaust) I find that extremely offensive. I can only imagine that the people of Gaza would rather that you focus on solving their problems, as opposed to using them as an excuse to hate Israel.
    By the way, have any of you been to Germany and Poland? It may be ok for some people, but I wouldn’t live there if you paid me…. oh, right, and they kicked us out.

  12. Mark Buckshon says:

    David Katz’s views are refreshingly intelligent. Too many people cast these issues in black and white terms and many who speak the most loudly either only want to see one side of the story, or simply haven’t bothered to read, visit and learn the depth of the situation.

    My views are conflicted because I sense some truth in the “israel Apartheid” arguments — at least in the context of the settler movement (which, ideologically, traces roots to the original Zionist initiative). These views are shaped by two first hand experiences: Eighteen months as a working journalist in Rhodesia turning Zimbabwe (1978-80) and a couple of extensive trips to Israel in the past few years, including an organized bus tour with the One Israel movement to an “unauthorized” west bank settlement. There, as I listened to the settlers, I felt a disturbing bit of deja-vu — to Bulawayo Zimbabwe in 1979!

    Now this does not mean that Israel is illegitimate nor is the country as a whole an Arpatheid State. Israel truly is a creation of the United Nations and the Jewish people certainly have a legitimate claim to their own nation state in the Holy Land, both from recent and biblical history. We can argue about misuses and abuses in the early days of Israel as well as the modern state, but the founding of the Jewish state has solid legitimacy in history — as, frankly, does a Palestinian state.

    I fear the combination of right wing zealot settlers and extremists within the Palestinian/Arab world will scupper any sincere and honorable effort at a positive and healthy resolution of this mess. But if I had a choice of Hamas or its ilk or the (not perfect) Israeli democracy, I’ll take the latter in a second. I just wish I could ship the settlers, not the rest of the Israeli population, somewhere far out of harms way (hmm, maybe Zimbabwe?)

  13. C. L. Cook says:

    I wonder about the credibility of your site. You have reported in this article, ostensibly about L’Affaire Davies, a machete attack on two Carlton students by “Muslims”. What this has to do with the price of eggs I don’t know, but the story sounded fishy to me. The Ottawa Citizen article you linked to explained the claims, but carries no follow up. Fortunately, I found someone who looked deeper into the machete attack story.

    Reuel S. Amdur of The Canadian Charger website (a says this:

    “There are some difficulties with this account.

    Hull’s late-night watering holes are indeed popular with Ottawa university students, but it is not likely that Muslim students would be coming out of such places at 1:45 in the morning. Yet, it is possible. Not all Muslims are non-drinkers, in spite of religious rules.

    Then there are questions about numbers. Klibanov spoke of three assailants on the three of them. Three of them? Where is the third person who accompanied Klibanov and Bergamini? And Bergamini numbered the attackers as 10 or 15, not three.

    Inquiries at Le Volt did not produce any support for the alleged incident. There is no record from the camera at the entrance.

    The bouncer on duty denied that anyone came to seek protection. He saw no problems. Police have made no arrests, saying that the matter was still under investigation and that there could be no comment till the investigation was concluded.

    The whole case depends at this time, it seems, on the credibility of the two students.

    We have some evidence about Klibanov’s credibility because of a problem with his candidacy for student office at Carleton. On March 9, 2010, the electoral board of the student council disqualified him from running because he submitted a fraudulent or inaccurate expenditures report.

    According to the board: “The secondary receipt submitted to the Elections Office, after you were informed by e-mail of the insufficiency of the first, was determined to be fraudulent or inaccurate because of several inconsistencies. For example, the service reported is not available at the company (Westboro Flooring and Decor) where the invoice came from; the photographer was not an employee of the company; the employees from the company had no record of the receipts; and the multiple receipts from the same company had been submitted with the same invoice number.”

    It is hoped that the police investigation will uncover the truth.

    If the allegations of the attack are true, they reveal a serious situation on the Carleton campus, requiring immediate action, not only to identify and take action against any students involved, but also to engage in a program to promote of positive relations between Muslim and Jewish students.

    On the other hand, if the story proves to be a hoax, the perpetrators need to face the consequences. As well, the Jewish organizations that issued statements will need to retract them promptly.”

    It seems this “attack”, though not really a part of the Davies story at all, is even less genuine than your reportage.

    • David Katz says:

      I actually did not know about what you have said, and that does trouble me. I will try and do some research into it later (my life is absolute chaos right now as a result of whats going on, I really don’t know how public figures can deal with it, and they have it a 100 times worse then me) and verify what you said, but in the mean time I will add a disclaimer to the top of the article, thanks


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